The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki

Posted November 27, 2019 by Amber in Reviews / 0 Comments

The Accidental Empress

The Accidental Empress

by Allison Pataki

Series: Sisi #1
Publisher: Howard Books on February 1, 2015
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance
Target Age Group: Adult
Rating: ★★★★

Check out this book on Goodreads

The year is 1853, and the Habsburgs are Europe’s most powerful ruling family. With his empire stretching from Austria to Russia, from Germany to Italy, Emperor Franz Joseph is young, rich, and ready to marry.

Fifteen-year-old Elisabeth, “Sisi,” Duchess of Bavaria, travels to the Habsburg Court with her older sister, who is betrothed to the young emperor. But shortly after her arrival at court, Sisi finds herself in an unexpected dilemma: she has inadvertently fallen for and won the heart of her sister’s groom. Franz Joseph reneges on his earlier proposal and declares his intention to marry Sisi instead.

Thrust onto the throne of Europe’s most treacherous imperial court, Sisi upsets political and familial loyalties in her quest to win, and keep, the love of her emperor, her people, and of the world.


I know very little of Empress Elizabeth of Austria, and one of my goals in adding The Accidental Empress to my TBR was to expand my historical fiction reading out of the Tudor Court.  I am so glad I did – I have mixed luck with historical fiction because of the way it is written and I don’t often find many authors I enjoy.  I’m happy to say I will be adding Allison Pataki to my list of wonderful historical fiction authors, alongside Philippa Gregory and Anita Diamant.

One of the first things I do with non-fiction is cross-check facts.  Historical fiction is, of course, just that: fiction.  But the best lies have a grain of truth at the center, so I wanted to see how well Pataki mixed fact and fiction.  I’m pleased to say that many stark details of Sisi’s narrative are right out of historical fact.  Empress Elizabeth left behind many journals, and it’s a historian’s dream to have ripe primary sources.  I’m sure these journals and other primary and secondary sources influenced Pataki’s narrative.  It was historical enough to feel real, and lyrical enough to be entertaining.  Excellent writing, honestly.

It’s a very different historical fiction than I’m accustomed to, because of how much time I’ve spent reading about the Tudor Court.  While there are still rumors and intrigue, the court gossip is in circles outside Sisi’s hearing, and I felt the novel was well-written to keep Sisi at the center, rather than to split the narrative between the empress and another.  Elizabeth struggles with imposter’s syndrome as well as depression.  Her story feels quiet, hidden between closed doors, and there is a lot of emotion in it.  She’s a wonderfully written character that evolves and grows so easily and yet so subtly.

Then, of course, we have Sophie, the Arch-Duchess.  I adored this character because I loved to hate her.  Much like Sisi, I have a difficult mother-in-law, but nothing to this caliber.  I did a little resource on Sophie as well (because the historian in me can’t not) and it was interesting to see how this character was also true to historical fact, but through the eyes of Sisi.  If Sophie had been viewed through the perspective of any other character, she would have been very different.

I think the only thing I can criticize in this novel is the pacing.  It flipped back and fort a bit, and there were scenes where the we were in the present as some sort of important event (revealed at the end as events caught up) and in the past.  For a while, the narrative took on a meandering tone, and then it just… skipped forward.  Four years.  And while I understand the empress was away from court, I think I would have liked to hear about more?  I’d forgive this if it was a standalone novel and Pataki wanted to focus only on Elizabeth’s ascent and contributions to Hungarian independence… but this is the first book in the duology and it would have been nice to at least get a sort of highlights sequence?  But honestly, that’s all that rumpled my feathers.

I’d recommend The Accidental Empress for fans of historical fiction and who are interested in the Hapsburgs.  I have to be honest and say I haven’t read a lot about this line of monarchs, and I’m not sure if my lack of knowledge played into how much I enjoyed it?  But I did enjoy it and it was nice to read about a different regime.


Ratings Breakdown

Setting: ★★★★ 1/2
Plot: ★★★★
Characters: ★★★★
Writing: ★★★★★
Pacing: ★★★ 1/2
Writing: ★★★★
Narrator: ★★★★
Personal Enjoyment: ★★★★ 1/2
Overall: ★★★★


Are you familiar with Franz Joseph and Sisi?  Most of my historical training is from the medieval era, so I know very little about the Eastern European monarchies.  Shout to me your favorite fact about the Hapsburgs in the comments! <3

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